Precrop functional group identity affects yield of winter barley but less so high carbon amendments in a mesocosm experiment

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Nitrate leaching is a pressing environmental problem in intensive agriculture. Especially after the crop harvest, leaching risk is greatest due to decomposing plant residues, and low plant nutrient uptake and evapotranspiration. The specific crop also matters: grain legumes and canola commonly result in more leftover N than the following winter crop can take up before spring. Addition of a high carbon amendment (HCA) could potentially immobilize N after harvest. We set up a 2-year mesocosm experiment to test the effects of N fertilization (40 or 160 kg N/ha), HCA addition (no HCA, wheat straw, or sawdust), and precrop plant functional group identity on winter barley yield and soil C/N ratio. Four spring precrops were sown before winter barley (white lupine, faba bean, spring canola, spring barley), which were selected based on a functional group approach (colonization by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi [AMF] and/or N2-fixing bacteria). We also measured a subset of faba bean and spring barley for leaching over winter after harvest. As expected, N fertilization had the largest effect on winter barley yield, but precrop functional identity also significantly affected the outcome. The non-AMF precrops white lupine and canola had on average a positive effect on yield compared to the AMF precrops spring barley and faba bean under high N (23% increase). Under low N, we found only a small precrop effect. Sawdust significantly reduced the yield compared to the control or wheat straw under either N level. HCAs reduced nitrate leaching over winter, but only when faba bean was sown as a precrop. In our setup, short-term immobilization of N by HCA addition after harvest seems difficult to achieve. However, other effects such as an increase in SOM or nutrient retention could play a positive role in the long term. Contrary to the commonly found positive effect of AMF colonization, winter barley showed a greater yield when it followed a non-AMF precrop under high fertilization. This could be due to shifts of the agricultural AMF community toward parasitism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number912
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 03.07.2018

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) initiative ‘BonaRes—Soil as a sustainable resource for the bioeconomy’ through the project INPLAMINT.

    Research areas

  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, Barley, Crop rotation, High carbon amendment, Immobilization, Nitrate leaching, Plant functional group, Rhizobia
  • Biology
  • Ecosystems Research